The Eagles lost another winnable game Sunday. They were beaten for the fourth time in the last six games.
Here are my top five reasons for their 22-17 defeat to the Cleveland Browns:
The Sanders fumble
In the Eagles’ Week 2 loss to the Rams, Miles Sanders fumbled on the third play of the game. The turnover gave the Rams the ball in Eagles territory. Five plays later, it was 7-0 and the Rams were off to the races, scoring on their first three possessions in a 37-19 runaway win.
On Sunday, Sanders again had a costly first-possession fumble. This one killed a potential scoring drive that would have given the Eagles an early lead.
The Eagles had a first-and-goal at the Cleveland 5. Sanders had run for 36 yards on his first five carries. But No. 6 would end in disaster. Browns defensive end Cameron Malveaux stripped the ball from him in the pouring rain and it was recovered by safety Karl Joseph.
The Eagles offense would see the red zone just once more until late in the fourth quarter. And the Browns shut down Sanders after that drive. He had just 29 yards on his next 10 carries and was held to 3 yards on five carries in the second half.
Protection problems, again
I think we all can agree that the clock in Carson Wentz’s head, which is supposed to tell him when the ball needs to be out of his hands, is broken and has been broken for a while now. And none of Doug Pederson’s army of offensive assistants seems to be able to fix it. He hangs onto the ball too long, and that was the case again several times on Sunday.
His 2.92-second snap-to-release time against the Browns, as charted by Pro Football Focus, was 0.2 seconds longer than his 2.72-second season average, which already was the seventh-highest in the league.
That said, most of Wentz’s problems Sunday had to do with the inability of the Eagles’ offensive line to protect him rather than his own indecisiveness.
With the return of left guard Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles’ offensive line went into the game as healthy as it had been since the beginning of the season. They also caught a break when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who is the league’s best pass rusher, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and wasn’t available for the game.
But all of that didn’t much matter. Wentz was sacked five times, bringing his season total to a league-high 40, and was under pressure on 40% of his dropbacks. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, who once upon a time were the best offensive tackle tandem in the league, struggled to neutralize defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn. Vernon had three of the Browns’ five sacks, including one for a safety late in the third quarter when he easily split a double-team by Peters and Seumalo.
At 38, Peters has nothing left. Watching him try to move his feet against edge rushers like Vernon is painful. Plus, he can’t stay healthy. He missed four games earlier this season with a toe injury and left the Browns game briefly with an undetermined injury in the first quarter, and then left for good shortly after giving up the safety. He played just 47 of 68 snaps.
Same with Johnson, whose surgically repaired ankle clearly never has healed. He played just 41 snaps Sunday. Center Jason Kelce injured his left elbow late in the first half and played the entire second half with a thick sleeve on his arm. But he couldn’t bend his arm. He needed teammates to buckle his chinstrap for him.
Third-down problems, again
I apologize if you’ve seen this one before (you have). A week after failing to convert a third down for the first time since 2004 against the Giants, the Eagles were just 2-for-12 on third down against the Browns. And one of those conversions came on the Eagles’ first possession. So they converted just one of their last 11.
The Eagles have converted just 22.2% of their third downs (12 of 54) in their last five games. That’s the lowest third-down success rate in the league over that period.
The Eagles’ lone third-down conversions Sunday were a pair of third-and-2s. Boston Scott picked up one with a 4-yard run on the first possession. And Wentz had a 29-yard completion to tight end Richard Rodgers on a third-and-2 early in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with Jake Elliott field goal to get the Eagles within two points.
But four of the Browns’ five sacks of Wentz came on third down. Vernon’s first sack came on a third-and-3 with the Eagles at the Cleveland 43. His second came on a third-and-4 on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half. The Browns rushed just three players on the play.
Vernon’s third sack, for the safety that gave the Browns a 12-7 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter, was on a third-and-8. The Eagles chipped him with a wide receiver (Greg Ward) and double-teamed him with Seumalo and Peters and he still got to Wentz, who hung onto the ball too long. The Browns’ last sack of Wentz, by Clayborn on the Eagles’ final possession of the game, came on a third-and-3 at the Cleveland 12. Fifteen of Wentz’s 40 sacks this season have been on third down.
Wentz had two more picks Sunday, bringing his total to a league-high 14. The first one hand-delivered a touchdown to the Browns. The second one killed a scoring drive and clinched the win for the Browns.
A seemingly harmless check-down pass to Sanders early in the second quarter backfired in a horrible way when Wentz was hit from behind by Browns cornerback Denzel Ward as he threw the ball. The ball hovered in the air like a balloon filled with helium. Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki stepped in front of Sanders, intercepted the pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown to put Cleveland ahead 7-0.
Wentz had rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor wide-open on the play for what would have been an easy first down. It’s hard to believe he didn’t see him since he seemed to be looking right at him. But he didn’t throw it.
Ward came on a delayed blitz from the right side. He should have been picked up by tight end Rodgers, but Rodgers -- much like Wentz with Reagor -- somehow didn’t see him coming. Wentz had the ball for 3.49 seconds before Ward hit him.
The second interception, with 2 minutes left in the game and the Eagles at the Cleveland 10-yard line, was an ugly, overthrown pass to Alshon Jeffery, who was on the field for one of his fie snaps. It was just a bad call and an even worse pass. Wentz completed just 14 of 26 passes in the second half.
Opponents have converted Wentz’s 18 turnovers (four lost fumbles in addition to the 14 interceptions) into 44 points.
Carson Wentz is a mess right now. And while much of that is on him, the coaching staff doesn’t seem to be helping him much. Doug Pederson’s reshuffling of his offensive coaching staff has been a disaster. Too many cooks in the kitchen and none of them seems to be doing much to prevent a fifth-year quarterback who once was a league MVP candidate from going into a career death spiral.
Social distancing and coaching by Zoom have made things a little more difficult for coaches to communicate with their players. But Wentz needs a position coach right now who will put his foot up the quarterback’s butt and help him get his stuff together, and he doesn’t have that.
» READ MORE: Grading the Eagles’ 22-17 loss to the Browns
Pederson’s play-calling also hasn’t helped. When it became clear Sunday that Peters was powerless to stop Vernon, the Eagles should have been getting Wentz outside on boots, and running quick slants off run-pass options, and handing the ball to Sanders and Boston Scott like they did on their first possession.
Pederson’s reluctance to turn over a series or two to Hurts also mystifies me. It would have helped Sunday. The Eagles had early success with their run game on zone reads.
Then there’s the curious case of Jeffery. When you have the ball on the Cleveland 10-yard line with 2 minutes left and still have a chance to score and get the ball back, why are you throwing the ball to Jeffery? Why is he even active right now? Why is he taking even five snaps away from a promising rookie like John Hightower, who played one snap Sunday?